We all start out so unabashedly unashamed. Whatever makes us unique, different, special we regard without concern; we flaunt without a care.
Then, we (our or child, family member) change. Someone. Somehow. Sometime. Something. And we find ourselves thrust into the world of judgment, or painfully watch as our children face the same. Does it happen to us or do we allow it to happen? No matter. It was always present, but now we care. There, we struggle, sometimes for years, to improve ourselves so our difference isn’t noticed.
If we or our child arrived with our difference and we are fortunate, we hope to return to that place of our early youth, where absorbing external judgment isn’t even considered. If our difference happened along the way, we strive for new functional ability, and ultimately emotional stability.
Regardless, if we are fortunate, we have arrived as a flaunter, able to not only embrace our lot in life, but appreciate its value, and even inspire.
As we turn the page to 2015, I once again choose to highlight those auspicious people that have demonstrated this past year to their family, friends, neighbors and some even to the public at large, that they have learned not to hide, but rather flaunt whatever makes each of them unique and fabulous:
Ezra was born with femur-fibula-ulna syndrome, a very rare genetic condition that resulted in the amputation of Ezra’s left leg and relocation of his toe to his one-fingered hand to serve as a thumb. In addition to being physically beautiful, already at nine Ezra is a natural athlete (already setting seven national records) and having just been named as one of the 2014 Sports Illustrated ‘SportsKid’ of the Year. However, beyond athletic, Ezra is clearly wise beyond his years. “When I play sports I feel at home, I don’t feel different, I feel like I’m just one of the guys.”
In January 2014 Jillian Mercado a fashion-blogger turned model who has muscular dystrophy was featured in Diesel in the label’s ‘We Are Connected’ campaign. Mercado posed alongside visual artist James Astronaut in a denim dress, bright red lipstick and her signature platinum blonde hair, where the magazine allowed Jillian to feature, rather than hide her electric wheelchair in the photo. Since then, Jillian has gone on to amazing heights, including being featured by Nordstrom in its summer catalog. “My name is Jillian Mercado, I am 27 years old, live in New York City, I am in a wheelchair and I am beautiful.”
Ten-year-old Oliver Scheier was born with a very rare form of Muscular Dystrophy called Rigid Spine. DHIFI chose Oliver as one of its Best of the 2014 Flaunters for not only being an incredible fun and positive kid and role model (as well writing a fantastic Kid Flaunt earlier this year!), but also because of all the incredible things. For one, he and his family partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association four years ago to host and annual, “Olli Pallooza to raise awareness and funds for research relating to rare muscular dystrophies. In addition, during his “free-time,” Ollie helps his mother Mindy with Runway of Dreams, a not-for-profit organization that designs adaptive clothing for differently-abled children. “You are who you are and nothing can stop you from being the best you can be!”
Chantelle Brown Young
Chantelle Brown-Young, (aka ‘Winnie Harlow’) caught the attention of Tyra Banks this year and she appeared on the latest season of America’s Next Top Model. However, what made Brown-Young stand-out this year beyond her incredible beauty was the fact that at age four, she was diagnosed with the skin condition called Vitiligo which has affected her body, including on her hands, knees and face. Despite being bullied as a child, Brown-Young pushed through adversity and chose to embrace her difference and even inspire others to accept themselves. “Growing up, it was a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ type of thing. I just decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to keep telling myself I’m beautiful until I feel beautiful.’ And it happened.”
Subhreet Kaur Ghumman
Subhreet Kaur Ghumman, popularly known as the “One Legged Dancer”, is resident of village Jhundan, Amargarh, District Sangrur (Punjab). Subhreet Kaur lost her leg in a road accident on Oct 21, 2009, while she was riding her scooter. She decided to start dancing when she saw Vinod Thakur dancing on a TV show and decided start practicing daily. She continued her passion for dance and got selected in India’s Got Talent TV show in February 2014.
After her performance, Subhreet got a standing ovation from the show’s Judges and Bollywood superstar Salman Khan who couldn’t stop raving about her. Subhreet clearly got the support she needed from her family to make her dreams happen. Shubhreet’s mother shared with the media, “I pray that the God bless every parent with a girl like Subhreet.” According to Subhreet, her motto is: “Never give up. Nothing is impossible!”
About twenty months ago Jason Collins came out in Sports Illustrated as the first openly gay man in one of the four major professional team sports. After his announcement, Jason knew the road would not be easy, describingto the media that it had been argued that no team would want to take on a player who was likely to attract a media circus from the outset and whose sexuality would be a distraction. However, earlier in 2014, Collins signed with the Nets and became the first openly gay male athlete to appear in a game in one of those leagues. Although Collins announced his retirement from the NBA, Collins deserves continued praise for his incredible efforts both on and off the court to encourage acceptance. “It feels wonderful to have been part of these milestones for sports and for gay rights, and to have been embraced by the public, the coaches, the players, the league and history.”
In October of this year, 52-year old Kristina “Tina” Ament of Alexandria, Virginia competed against 2,000 of the world’s best triathletes in the 2014 Ironman World Championship. Tina was born with a genetic mutation known as Leber congenital amaurosis RPE65, a rare disorder that impairs vision at birth and worsens over time. To compensate for her lack of vision, Tina was tethered to another participant who served as a guide during the swim and run segments of a triathlon. She also rode a custom tandem bike during the cycling portion. Tina and her guide met the same strict cutoff times as sighted competitors, but Tina accomplished it all this past Fall without seeing the water or road before her. “To compete at the Ironman World Championship was a dream come true. It was the toughest challenge I’ve taken on. But I hope my race inspired people to chase their dreams, no matter how impossible they seem. After all, the motto of Ironman is, ‘Anything is Possible’.”
Sierra Sandison won the title of Miss Idaho on July 13, 2014. A Type 1 diabetic, Sandison flaunted her insulin pump during the bikini compentition during the Miss Idaho competition. Sierra, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2012, was inspired as a child when she saw Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999 on stage with the insulin pump. According to Sandison, Johnson not only overcame it, but used it to serve others and served as her inspiration. “I think one of the biggest problems is the media gives us a one-dimensional look on beauty. What I really want people to know is whatever our differences are, it does make you look beautiful. It makes you look unique, and should be celebrated, rather than thought of as a flaw.”
Amy Purdylost both of her legs at 19 to meningitis and went on to become a world champion in adaptive snowboarding and competed at the recent Paralympics for Team USA. If that weren’t enough to make this list, in 2014 Purdy showed us all that it really doesn’t take legs to dance well after all—only determination when she placed 2nd with partner Derek Hough in the 18th season of television’s ‘Dancing With the Stars.” “It’s pretty cool to see how it brought not just the awareness of our differences, but the respect for them. They look at me for what I’m capable of instead of going ‘That girl has prosthetic legs.”